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Monday, March 31, 2014

Search for Knowledge

Well, it's finally Spring (or so the calender says) and I'm back with first page critiques for the week. If you're interested in having your first page appear here, send it along! For today, we have the first page of Charity Bradford's work in progress, SEARCH FOR KNOWLEDGE, the sequel to THE MAGIC WAKES.

Four tiny suns washed out the sky leaving the dragon council in a mauve twilight. The suns were too far away to bathe the planet’s occupants in golden light, but the dragon lords never stayed for long. Dragons of every hue and size filled the valley. Their breath filled the cold air with steam as they listened to the report.
“Lords Elvin and Jenska, the humans on Sendek have made a course change.” A medium sized green dragon stood in the center of the circle before two very large dragons. One blue, the other green.
The blue nodded to his companion who spoke their shared question.
“How does this concern us?”
“For the first time we may be able to return to a seeded planet. They need our help and at this time they are willing to be instructed.”
The blue dragon made a low chuffing sound and rubbed his foreleg across his chest. “I remember my last day on Sendek. Men do not want to be instructed. I have the scars to prove it.”
“Lord Elvin! You know this body does not carry the scars of the old one.”
“Maybe not physically, but they are there all the same my jewel. I’ve missed you Della.”
“Don’t change the subject. Our descendants have survived. The magic has awakened and they will need guidance. Your guidance.”
“What do you think Jenska?” Elvin once again deferred to the green dragon at his side.
“It is too great a risk. We should continue to the next world. Perhaps this time we will get it right.”
Della tipped her head back and roared. “I tell you I’ve searched their minds. Sendek still has the potential for success. They’ve made great strides on their own. They’ve protected their wild lands, the air quality is better than when you left, and they are reaching out to the stars.”
“Other’s have reached the stars, but their hearts were not ready to be one with us.” Elvin spoke low but all could hear his voice in their minds.
“Stubborn man.”
“I’m no longer a man, just as you are no longer a woman. We are more than we were.”
“You are the same spirit that lived in the body of a man. I met the children of our love. Sendek requires a second look.”


My first impression is that this is a good set up for a sequel, especially the last line, " Sendek requires a second look." This tells the reader that we'll likely be returning to the planet where the first novel takes place. The only problem I have is that for me, this isn't a very compelling opening. To be fair, I'm speaking from the point of view of someone who hasn't read what's come before but even so, the first page of a sequel needs to not only interest readers of the previous book but also draw in new readers. As it stands, I'm not curious enough to turn the page (sorry). 

Now comes the part where I'm supposed to make suggestions as to how to improve this first page, and here's where I'm having trouble, because there's nothing really wrong with this first page. It just didn't grab me. So, how can the author make this first page more interesting, especially to those who never read the first book? What comes to my mind is, again, that last line, which implies that these dragons will be heading back to Sendek. But are they all unified in their desire to help? Is there any conflict between them? If so, maybe that could be played up a little more here. For example, what if the perspective was changed from where the main players are (and I'm assuming that the dragons introduced here will be the main players) to somewhere beyond? This might give the reader the opinions and observations of someone else who might be able to hint at the greater conflict that is sure to ensue. Because if there's one thing sure to make people turn the page, it's trouble.

If you have any thoughts for Charity, please share - we love comments! - and if you want to read Charity's first book, click on the pic :)



Saturday, March 29, 2014

And the chosen story is...

A big thank you to everyone who submitted an inspiring story this week. I loved the variety of stories and enjoyed reading all of them.

Real Imprints had a tough decision to make. Here is what they said about the Inspiring Stories Contest:

"Real Imprints would like to thank each writer for taking the time to write and submit an inspiring story. Each one was amazing and uplifting! It was a collaborative effort to choose the featured imprint and it was a very difficult decision! We look forward to receiving every story as they all have a beautiful message to share! We would also like to thank Unicorn Bell for collaborating with us to do this contest. We hope that it inspired you to write! They have been wonderful to work with. We look forward to directing people to visit their blog through our site! And one last thanks to Kristin for having the inspiring idea in the first place! Again, thank you for participating in this wonderful experience!"

--Real Imprints

And the chosen story is....

                     ................................... DRUM ROLL PLEASE............................................

Christmas Cookies Bring Easter Blessings submitted by Wendy Petranek!

Congratulations Wendy! Your story will be featured on the Real Imprints website and you will receive a $10 Amazon gift card. 
All of the other stories will be submitted to the Real Imprints website with the possibility of being posted in the future. 

Thanks again to everyone who submitted an Inspiring Story! It has been an amazing week here on Unicorn Bell!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Inspiring Story #7

Today is the last day for Inspiring Stories, and luckily you get to read TWO stories again! Look for a post tomorrow where I announce the chosen story to be featured on the Real Imprints website.

This next story you'll read was submitted by Charity Bradford. She doesn't want to be part of the judging, but she wanted to share her own inspiring story.

 The Little Blessings in Life

       All too often we find ourselves coasting through life. Things are good, and we slip into automatic pilot mode. We forget to notice the little blessings in our lives. If we’re lucky, we get a wake-up call we can survive and grow from. My wake-up call came twelve years ago this June.
       Facing your own mortality can shake you to the core. Luckily, I had the love and support of many people to help me rebuild myself. But it didn’t happen overnight. Are you wondering what happened and how I pulled myself out of “the depths of despair” as Anne Shirley from Green Gables would say?
       Twelve years ago I was pregnant with my third child—my first son. We were all excited, but two weeks before my due date I started feeling “off”. The symptoms were similar to labor so off to the hospital we went, even though something in the back of my mind kept telling me this wasn’t labor. The midwife broke my water, and after the longest labor ever, I finally had my baby boy. But I never felt “better.” Three days after going home, I found myself back in the ER.
       The next two weeks are a blur with only snatches of memory. I remember being inside the MRI listening to a voice telling me to relax and take deep breaths, but I couldn’t breathe. I remember lights moving over my head as I was wheeled into emergency surgery. Crying because my husband wasn’t there. He made it at the last moment to give me a blessing and pray with me. Then there was nothing for a week.
        My milk dried up. I lost 40 pounds in two weeks, most of it muscle. When I finally went home, I was too weak to hold my baby or play with my two daughters. My only ambition in life had been to be a wife and mother, believing that every woman who serves and protects her family is doing the work of God. However, my brush with death left me helpless in bed. During the day my husband worked to support us while my sweet mother-in-law took care of my children and home. At night I cried myself to sleep while my husband sat up with our colicky baby. I was useless, and in spite of the blessings around me I felt utterly alone.
       Our bodies are true works of art—created by a divine Father in Heaven who loves us dearly. My body healed in three months, but it would take longer for me to allow Him to heal me inside.
       How did that healing happen? First I had to let go of the “why me?” attitude. I had to concentrate on the positive aspects of the experience. I had a healthy baby boy. My mother-in-law gave up a month of summer vacation with her children to help me. Members of my church—that I had only known for three weeks—brought meals almost every day for a month. I was alive.
       Eventually, I could think about the funny things that happened to me in the hospital. My sister-in-law told me about one of her visits where all I could talk about was the best chocolate chip cookies I had ever eaten—I don’t remember this by the way. We laugh about it now, but at the time, Jenny said she wanted to cry because she knew I hadn’t had anything to eat for a week. I also hadn’t had any water, but a sweet nurse gave me some gum to soothe my parched mouth. It was Everest gum. I do remember that, and I remember it stuck to my teeth like tar. That’s when I learned you need spit to chew gum. Perhaps the funniest thing was a random thought I had during my drug induced state. I was really concerned whether or not I’d be allowed to ride roller coasters when I got out of the hospital.
       I had to let those little things take the edge off the hurt. Once I did that, I could take the next step. After wallowing in depression for almost three years, another of God’s miracles pushed me into letting go of the one lie I’d held the closest. For some reason, my self-worth had been tied to the ability to have children. I don’t know why, but it was. After my experience I was told I’d never have any more of my own. Instead of rejoicing in the three I had, I felt like I had failed my husband. He never once did anything to confirm my inner turmoil. In fact, as an adopted son, he was excited about adopting children if we felt the need to have more. But then I got pregnant! I cried tears of joy and gratitude to God for that blessing. The choice to have children or not had been returned to me.
       Heavenly Father used this gift to open my eyes once and for all. I had a choice. I could continue to hold on to the past or I could let go and live my life once more. My children needed me. This new baby would need me. My sweet husband had held my hand patiently for years, waiting for me to find myself again. It was time to reinvent myself and be happy. With the help of loved ones, lots of prayer, and most importantly, the love of God, that’s exactly what I did.
       By allowing Him to heal me, my relationship with my husband, children and others around me are better than ever. I feel the joy of the little blessings in my life and am now strong enough to help others the way I was helped all those years ago.

Written By: Charity Bradford

Inspiring Story #6

This next story was submitted by our own Marcy Hatch. This is a true story that happened while she was working in a veterinary clinic.


"You would have had to..."

The doctor (veterinarian) was talking through her surgical mask and I couldn't quite hear her. But I knew what she was talking about. She was talking about innards, guts. And I knew the diagnoses: gastric torsion. The stomach twists. No one seems to know why, or at least, no one agrees. It happens to large dogs for the most part. And unless you act quickly they die.

Which is what had happened to the dog on the table. A standard poodle, black once, in his youth, faded now to grey in his old age.

I wondered what sort of dog he was. His condition upon arrival gave no indication of personality; he was nearly comatose. Was he the usual reserved and proud example of his breed? Was he a happy dog? A somber dog? Did he like to play fetch? Was he loved?

He was not one of our patients so we had no history, no connection to him or his people, not even a date of birth. He was being kenneled. His people had dropped him off as they had so often in the past, without incident. They would have to be told. The kennel people would do that. An unenviable task. Telling someone their dog has died while in your care.

I did not know this dog. He was a stranger to me. And I am not particularly fond of standard poodles. But I spoke kindly to him, held his cold paws in my hands while he was prepped for surgery, his shaved abdomen washed with blue soap and treated with betadyne. I hoped some of the warmth from my hands might seep into him. I do not think he heard my words.

I made a cage up for him with clean paper and a soft fleece to lay on, knowing his stomach would be tender. I left a towel to cover him with, wanting him to be warm. But of course, he never needed these things, dying midway through the surgery, alone in a strange place where none of the voices he heard were familiar. Was it better he died with us? With someone? Would he have had a better chance if his people had been here? Or had he already given up?

The girl who brought him in cried and I guessed she knew him well enough to have feelings for him. He was a frequent guest. I wondered, would his people cry for him as she did? Or would they simply accept his death stoically and tell themselves he was just a dog.

His name was Jack.

Written By: Marcy Hatch

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Inspiring Story #5

Today we are lucky to have not one, but TWO Inspiring Stories for you to read. Make sure you keep scrolling so you don't miss out on the second story. This next story was submitted by Yvonne Salvatierra.

Pillar of Strength

I have the best sister in the world.  Truly, I do.  She epitomizes strength, courage, perseverance and faith.  When my sister Maria was 36 years old, she got married and a year later, became pregnant.  It was her first baby.  Neither she nor her husband wanted to know the sex of the baby until it was born.  In December of 2005, the cutest little baby boy was born.  They named him Ethan Alexander.  Ethan was my sister’s choice. She loves Ethan Hawke the actor, so she named his after him.  Alexander was my brother-in-law’s choice because of Alexander the Great.  And so, he was christened, Ethan Alexander.  What should have been a joyful and exciting time for my sister and her husband and the rest of the family, quickly turned grim and fearful.  Immediately after he was born, the nurses whisked him away and called Life flight to transport him to Texas Children’s Hospital.  One of the best medical facilities for children.  My sister had him by caesarean so the stitches were still fresh.  Against her doctor’s orders, she was discharged and rushed to the other hospital across town, to join the baby.  Ethan was born with a massive hole in his heart.  The doctors’ prognosis was “expect the worst”.  On just his second day of life, my baby nephew was given his last rites (A Catholic ritual for the dying).  Throughout all of this, while everyone was falling apart, myself included, my sister remained surprisingly strong.  She did not flinch when the doctors told us that Ethan was only expected to live a few days.  She refused to accept that and she prayed.  A lot.  We all did.  By nothing else than God’s hand, Ethan survived the first of many, many heart surgeries to follow.  Ethan spent the first six months of his little life in the hospital.  When he was finally discharged, the nurses and doctors showered him with flowers and balloons. He became known as the Miracle Baby.  Once home, the real work began. My sister became the mother, the nurse, the doctor.   Because Ethan was sent home with tubes in his nose and wires on his body, my sister was given a crash course in medicine by the home health nurse that came to check up on them once a week.  It was she who knew what to do if the baby stopped breathing suddenly, or turned blue or cried.  It was she who knew how to give him his medicine and held him when he cried, or held him down when the doctors had to give him several injections. While we were all there, it was my sister that was and remained the strong one.  I lost it. Each time, but especially when they had to hold him down.  I couldn’t stay in the room or even outside of the room.  Ethan’s cries reverberated throughout the entire floor.  My brother-in-law was a nervous wreck and could not even hold the syringes steady that contained Ethan’s medication.  My sister became the leader and we were her followers.   Our little miracle baby is not such a baby anymore.  He is now a beautiful and healthy 8 year old little boy.  The cardiologists have given him a clean bill of health and he doesn’t have to go for checkups with them every year like he used to when he was first born.  Now he only goes every two years.  He is normal, his heart is perfect and he is so loved.  I don’t have any children.  I don’t know that I would ever be as strong as my sister was during that time.  She inspires me to keep going, even when things in my life want to keep me down.  She is the one that encourages me to keep fighting no matter what.  Both Ethan and my sister are fighters.  That little boy brings so much joy to our lives.  I hope he knows what a special mother he has by his side.  

Written By: Yvonne Salvatierra

Inspiring Story #4

Our next Inspiring Story was submitted by Patricia Haggard.

 Author’s notes: This true story takes place in the 1950’s when “retarded” was used in reference to the mentally handicapped. The events in the story are true, but the details have been invented as all but one person in the story have passed. I grew up visiting my Aunt Roene and loving her funny and spunky personality. It wasn’t until I became a mom that I appreciated the sacrifice her mothers made so that Roene could live a happy, love-filled life at home.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

          Dr. Evans opened the heavy wooden door and ushered Ora and Leo into the sitting room. Leo sunk into the upholstered upright chair and watched as Ora paced in front of him. Moments later the door opened again and eight-year-old Roene staggered in. Her dark brown hair was clipped short and combed straight, her dress was clean, but wrinkled. Ora walked toward her, arms open for a welcoming hug, but Roene flinched backwards. She glanced at her father, Leo, and began to utter her loud guttural cries. Leo looked between his wife and his retarded daughter and finally stood.
          Roene thrust her always-present fist into her mouth and waited. Dr. Evans firmly pulled her fist from her mouth. “No, Roene, not in your mouth,” he said.
          Ora slowly moved closer to her daughter and asked Dr. Evans, “How is she doing?”
          “She is a hard one, very stubborn. She spends a lot of time in isolation.”
          Ora’s eyes narrowed, “Isolation?”
          Roene looked back and forth between her father and mother, collapsed, and began pounding her fists on the spotless wooden floor.
          “No!” Dr. Evans roared as he reached down to pull Roene to her feet.
          But Leo was faster. He knelt beside her and held a hand up to stop Dr. Evans. Ora reached down to hold Roene’s hand.
          Roene let out a terrified squeal and crawled behind the chair. Leo sat beside her and reached to pat a curled fist. She pulled her arms back as if she had been pricked by a needle. Roene began moaning and crawled her way around the chair to kneel next to Dr. Evans.
          Ora watched as Roene moved away from her father and then looked into Leo’s eyes. She could read the pain disguised behind his strength.
          “We are taking her home today,” she stated.
          “No, Mrs. Reeve. This is her home now,” Dr. Evans pointed out as he patted Roene’s head.
          “She doesn’t even know us,” Ora spat as tears began to form in her eyes. “She needs to come home.”
          “Mrs. Reeve, I can see that this visit is upsetting all of you. That’s why I suggested you not come. Most people realize their children are better off here. They quit coming and the children are just fine.”
          “Dr. Evans, you don’t know me very well, so I’ll excuse your talking to me like I am ‘most people,’ but let me assure you, I am NOT ‘most people.”

          Five years later, Roene sat on a hard wooden chair with her father and new stepmother beside her. Leo wrapped his arm around his wife, Ruth, and held his daughter’s twisted hand while they waited for yet another doctor to dictate Roene’s future. Roene rocked side to side in her chair and kicked the legs. She cocked her head and mumbled, “Mama.”
         “Yes, Roene,” answered Leo, “It’s your new Mama.”
          It had been less than a year since Roene’s mother, Ora, had died, and Ruth had taken on
the challenge of two teenage boys and a young Roene with all her problems. Ruth wasn’t sure what she had gotten into, but she had faith that marrying Leo was the right thing to do. So, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She surely was not going to give up on her new step-daughter without a fight. So, the family sat waiting to hear what Dr. Parker would recommend.
          Dr. Parker slid behind his polished desk and opened the file marked, “Reeve, Roene.” He removed his glasses and set them carefully next to the folder. “Mr. Reeve,” he began, “I’m sorry to tell you that after extensive testing, we have to concur with the earlier findings. Your daughter will never be able to care for herself. She falls well below the mark of ‘mentally retarded.’ She needs to be placed in a facility where she can get the help she needs.”
          Leo’s grip on Ruth’s shoulder tighten, and she looked away from Dr. Parker to her husband. She hadn’t known him for long, but the devastation was unmistakable. Dr. Parker may as well have pushed a knife into his heart, as to suggest his daughter be sent away again.
          Ruth firmly placed her hand over Leo’s and moved it from her shoulder. She stood, and tugged Leo to his feet. “Thank you for your recommendation. We will be going now.”
          “My assistant can give you information about the nearest facility for Roene,” Dr. Parker said as he stood to usher the family out.
          “No need,” Ruth replied. She placed her arm under Roene’s and began to guide her jerky movements through the door. “She has a home. She doesn’t need a facility.”

                                                  Written By: Patricia Haggard

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Inspiring Story #3

 Our next Inspiring Story comes from Wendy Petranek.

 Christmas Cookies Bring Easter Blessings

One winter morning after my run I went to the grocery store. I found what I needed and headed to the shortest checkout line.  As I began to place my items on the conveyer belt I noticed the woman ahead of me.  I watched as she checked the price of every item that was scanned.  I could tell she was taking note and adding up the total.  As the cashier scanned the last item and told her the price, the lady exclaimed, "I'm sorry,  I will have to take something out. I just don't have enough money."  As she looked through her groceries she handed the cashier a box of Christmas cookies. I watched as the cashier took them off her purchase and placed them under the register. As the lady finished paying for her items I could sense her sadness.  It was the Christmas season, a time for enjoying treats and giving gifts.

It was in that moment I decided I would buy the cookies for her.  Many years ago a kind woman had bought hot chocolate for me in a small cafe in San Francisco.  I remembered my happiness and gratitude towards her.  Without hesitation, I said to the cashier as she greeted me, "I'd like to buy those Christmas cookies." She looked at me a bit perplexed and pulled them from beneath her register.  After she scanned the cookies I quickly took them and ran to the lady who was just heading out. I said to this dear woman, "Merry Christmas! I hope you enjoy these cookies."  As she thanked me it was then I realized she spoke with a heavy European accent. She told me she had just moved here from Romania with her family. She was very happy to have the cookies and wanted to thank me by sending a Christmas card. I gave her my address not really expecting to get a card. To my surprise, within a few days I found a card in my mailbox.  She thanked me again for the cookies and told me God would bless me for my kindness. 

A couple months went by and I received another letter from this sweet woman. She told me she knew I was a giving person and wanted to know if I would be willing to help a few families in Romania. She explained she was in the process of putting together a Easter package and wanted to know if I could help.  She included her phone number and invited me to call if interested. Something inside me told me I should call and so I did.  I dialed her number and heard her distinct accent as she said hello.  She told me there were 4 families very much in need. She said they basically had nothing, and she asked if I could help donate clothes, shoes, tooth brushes and food.  She then gave me a list of the ages and gender of the children and adults.  Before we hung up we agreed to meet at the local Walmart in a few days.

As I looked over the list I knew I could provide for the girls. Having four girls myself and many bins stored away in closets made it easy to fill her order.  However, I only have one son and he was an infant at the time. So I asked many friends with boys who went to church with me if they could help.  Each person I called did not hesitate to help and gave generously.  Church clothes, play clothes, jackets, sweaters, new socks and underwear all given by my friends to people they never had met and would never meet. It was a very powerful feeling to know that these stay-at-home moms could contribute and have such an impact on these people's lives.

Now that I had all the clothes the last thing on my list was food and toiletries. My good friend happened to be the store manager of a Walmart. I went to him and asked if he could help. He was able to give me a charitable donation which helped provide much of the food. I had asked this woman to meet me and together we shopped for all the items. We loaded up her tiny car with groceries and bags of clothes. She thanked me again and again for taking my time to help her people. I told her what a great experience it had been for me. We parted with smiles and hugs.

A few months went by and I was back at my mailbox. As I opened the mailbox I saw a card with an unusual address and realized it was from Romania.  One family had written to tell me thank you and had enclosed pictures.  What a tender moment it was to see this family.  One of the young girls had a dress on that had been my daughter's Easter dress the year before.  I realized then we as women can do much and have the power to do great things.  As we are observant and look for ways to serve those around us, we can change lives.

 Written By: Wendy Petranek

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Inspiring Story #2

  Today we have another wonderful Inspiring Story submitted by Robin Richards.                                                          

 The Secret of Life

After my father died, I struggled. All of my grandparents passed a while ago, but this was my father. No one would love me like he did ever again. I obsessed over whether or not he was "okay." The logical part assured me that he was. The emotional part scrambled for purchase.

He started coming to me in dreams. Each time I awoke there was a vague memory of him being in there somewhere. He wanted my attention, but my brain was cluttered.

Finally, I had this dream, which I know was a very real conversation between me and my dad - after he died.

In my dream, I was stranded in the middle of a large body of water, with no land in sight. I held  in my hands something that could save me. But the only thing that I had to activate it was a sharp implement and the device was delicate. It required navigating a lot of dangerous territory to reach one of two canisters. A voice told me that if the sharp implement punctured anything other than the canisters, which were difficult to reach, I would die.

I asked, "What happens if I choose to not try to reach the canisters?"

The voice said, "You will die."

Anxiety flooded my system. Not trying ceased to be an option, so I took a shot and lost. The voice, which I believe was God, told me that I had punctured something other than the canisters and now I would die.

I asked, "Will I drown?"

The voice said, "No. A foam-like substance will leak out of the canisters and expand to consume all of the air space."

Death stared me in the face.  Ironically, all of the anxiety dissipated.  When you KNOW you are going to die, you don't get upset. At least I didn't. My first thought was that I would be with my dad again.

"So, I am going to die," I said to God. I was resigned. It was okay.

And then I heard my father say this, " You know we're all gonna die someday." He always had this incredibly dry sense of humor. I turned around and there he was. He was young. He looked just as I remembered him when I was a kid. Too see him and hear him again acted like a balm to my wounded soul.

I laughed. He was right, after all.

He then said, "It is all about what you do now. Create all you can while you can." He then paused and said, "Do you want to see what I have been working on?"

"Yes," I said.

He pulled out a piece of wood, circular in shape, one inch thickness, approximately 24 square inches. He said that he cut, sanded, stained, finished, and painted the artwork himself. Delicate flowers burnt the wood  into a lovely design. He painted the flowers in blues, purples, and yellows. They inter-weaved themselves like a vine across the wood. In the middle there was a saying that I wish I could remember, but the essence was not to take yourself too seriously. Have fun with this thing called life.

I was filled with genuine surprise. My father didn't make anything like this when he was alive and that was the point. Death isn't an ending. It's another beginning. When we live in spirit, we understand all of the things we didn't while we were here. We see ourselves as creators. We want to venture into territory that previously made us uncomfortable.

He accomplished two things in that dream. First, I knew he was okay. He talked to me. He showed me that he was thriving. Second, he handed me the secret to living our best possible life. Reach. Stretch. Create. Extend yourself beyond what is familiar. It is the joy in life. It is why we are here.

Written By: Robin Richards

Monday, March 24, 2014

Inspiring Story #1

Today is the day!

Unicorn Bell and Real Imprints have teamed up together to host the very first Inspiring Stories Contest. I hope you're prepared to read some amazing stories this week! Each day I will post a story, and we'd love to hear your thoughts and comments! At the end of the week, the Real Imprints team will choose a story to be featured on their website and the "winner" will receive a $10 Amazon gift card. Sounds awesome, right?

Well, without further ado, let's get to our first Inspiring Story submitted by Heather Bell.

Not Alone

       Resting in a hospital room with my new baby, William, happy and healthy and a wonderful blessing. Blake is nearby, resting, but who can rest with a new baby to love?  I look out the window, a rainy gray day in Iowa.  I don’t even know where I am really as I have only lived in Iowa for two weeks.  We went to the wrong hospital for the delivery! I couldn’t find my way home if I tried. Yet, we found our way and here we are.
       No regular traditions this time.  No grandparents with a birthday cake for the new baby.  No friends to come meet him.  Texting and calling just isn’t the same.  No In N Out, a tradition we started in Las Vegas, when I was so starving after delivering that I could eat a whole meal AND the chocolate shake.  We have nobody but ourselves, a blessing and a curse.
       The rain is sad and fitting.  The moment is a bit tainted by loneliness and I cry.  I usually cry because of the joy of the baby, the fear of the baby, the excitement and feeling of success!  But this time, it is a pitiful cry of loneliness and wondering, how am I going to do this?  How am I going to take care of four kids in the middle of the woods without knowing anybody.  How am I so alone in the stark, sterile hospital?
       Yet, I know I am not alone.  I have never felt so carried in my life. When I found out that we were moving and I would be 38 weeks pregnant by the time, we were in Iowa, I didn’t once feel scared.  I felt empowered. I felt such relief knowing that I could do this hard thing!  He gave me the confidence and the strength to push forward.  Never have I felt the presence of God guiding me so much, carrying me, guarding me.  I was lifted and honestly carried.  My wonderful family and church friends helped me pack, clean, babysit, bring food, and even gave me a surprise baby shower.  There is nothing like the power of wonderful women who help lift you in the hardest times of life.   He inspired them to help me.  When we had a hard time finding a place to live, I found an ad on craigslist that met our needs.  He helped me find the best movers, hotels and set up a traveling schedule in a few days time and within a budget.  He did this because He knew I couldn’t do it alone.
       I knew that God had helped me, but I didn’t know how much he had helped me until I started to manage things on my own.  When I looked back at my journey and could see His hand in my life, I knew I wasn’t alone.  And this is my lesson, I am supposed to feel this loneliness so I will know that I am not alone. I have never felt true loneliness, because I have always had my God to help me.  And He, who created my spirit, knows me perfectly and knows just how to calm me and help me to grow. Growth, a painful state, but necessary to reach full potential.  And I am grateful for that time, because without it, I wouldn’t know my own strength or the strength of my God.

Written By: Heather Bell

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Last Call for Submissions

Hi everyone!

As one of the new moderators on Unicorn Bell, I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself.

I'm Kristin Smith, a busy baseball/soccer mom by day and a writer of romance by night. I am so excited about our very first Inspiring Stories Contest! But in order to make this contest a success, I need YOUR story!

We all have them. It doesn't have to be a grand "knock your socks off story", just any story that leaves you with a warm fuzzy and could potentially inspire or uplift someone else.

For example, have you ever judged someone based on appearance and they turned out to be one of the nicest people you've ever met?

Were you ever having an awful day and a friend called out of the blue that you hadn't spoken to in a while? Or have you had friends in your blogging community "uplift" you after a rejection from an agent or publisher?

Have you had to deal with the loss of a loved one? Have you undergone surgery and the love and support from friends and family members pulled you through?

We ALL have stories. Sometimes we need to tap into our soul to remember them.

For the rest of the day, please think about which story you'd like to share. Type it up and send it to me at unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com

I will accept submissions through Monday. Can't wait to hear your story!

For more information on the rules of the contest, click HERE.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Week of Self-Published Authors: Final Guest, K.C. May

As the week winds down and our final guest shares her experiences, I want to give a big thanks to all four authors who took the time to answer our questions in such detail and with such candor. I think a lot of the authors out there who haven't become best-sellers feel a degree of failure in themselves, at least that is my impression when I talk to many of them. For all of you who are beating yourself up over your sales, I hope the authors who've been interviewed this week have helped put things into perspective for you. "Writing is not a sprint, it's a marathon." It's like most careers-- you don't don't get hired in as the president of the company, you have to work your way up.

What can you (we) take away from this week?

  • Write. Writing more is the absolute best way for you to become a success.
  • Don't get distracted by social media. It can seem like a good investment of time, and sometimes it is, but best in moderation.
  • Write more.
  • Brand yourself. Be who your books are, at least as far as what your readers see and hear.
  • Free book giveaways are a very good marketing tool.
  • Write more.
  • Be patient. If you're a good writer, and if you stick with it, you'll find success even if you end up having to redefine what you thought "success" was originally going to be.
  • Pay attention to the trends in the industry. New ideas and options for marketing are coming out all the time.
  • If you're not sure if you're spending your time well, you should probably be writing.

Our last guest is K.C. May, a science fiction and fantasy author with six novels to date. She has her own publishing house and has been in the business for close to ten years. She is one of the few self-
published authors who has created the ability for herself to make writing her full-time career. She has a lot of experience and it shows. Authors, take a look at her website www.kcmay.com. It's everything an author would want their website to be: clean, professional, and fun. Take a look at the covers of her books. Even if you'd only read one of the Kinshield saga, you'd know any of the others were part of that series simply by the cover.

You’ve been a novelist for close to a decade. In that time, the industry has drastically changed. What do you see as the positives from those changes and what do you see as the negatives?

When I first started writing novels (in the late 80s), there weren’t a lot of ways for a writer to get feedback. Without feedback, it’s difficult to know what you’ve done right vs. what you need to improve. With the internet came ways for writers to connect, and share advice and feedback. Since my first book was published in 2005, the biggest changes have been in the explosion of the number and variety of outlets for publication. Small presses have succeeded, vanity publishing has diminished, and self-publishing has emerged as a surprisingly viable means to earn a living as a writer.

Your novel, The Kinshield Legacy, won a hardcover publishing contract in 2005. You’ve since had the rights reverted back to you and published it under your own imprint, “Peach Orchard Press”. Why did you decide not to seek another publishing house?

In 2010, self-publishing was beginning to get real traction in terms of accessibility to the major markets (Amazon and Barnes & Noble in particular). I’ve always had somewhat of an entrepreneurial spirit (I’ve tried getting into Amway, Mary Kay, and a few other peer-to-peer type organizations), and so the thought of doing it myself was massively appealing. By self-publishing it, I could maintain control of the artwork and see the sales figures myself instead of having to trust that the publisher (which has since earned a spot on the Predators & Editors “Not Recommended” list) was reporting sales accurately.

I did query my agent about The Venom of Vipers before self-publishing it, however. His lack of response (hrmph!) was no match for my ambition. I was more than happy to publish it myself.

Your situation is unique in that you own the publishing company that distributes your books which leads me to believe you see a benefit over simply self-publishing “generically”. In what way(s) do you feel you benefit by adding that extra layer? Would you recommend that other self-published authors do the same? Have you ever considered placing other authors under the Peach Orchard banner and expanding your company?

I’m not sure there’s a benefit to anyone but me. By establishing a separate entity, I can show (to anyone who cares, such as the IRS) that this is a serious venture for me. I’m not “just” a hobby writer. I felt that creating a publishing imprint was a way to communicate my intent. I don’t know that I’d recommend doing so to others, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage it. I think it depends on their commitment level and cash flow. It might be cheaper or free to register a business in other municipalities, but where I live, it ran me a few hundred bucks just for that piece of paper.

My intention is to only publish my own work under the Peach Orchard Press banner. That doesn’t mean I won’t change my mind, but the benefit to my readers in keeping POP solely for my own writing is that they know that every author pen name with my Peach Orchard Press name and logo is me. If my fantasy or science fiction readers also enjoy romance, they can tell by the publisher that I also write in that genre. And they might enjoy those books as well.

You have recently begun a chapter of your life as a full-time author. You have achieved a success that most authors, especially self-published authors, never reach. What was the turning point, the moment, when you realized you could support yourself as a writer? What changed in order for you to feel comfortable enough to take that leap?

It was a bit of a surprise to me, actually, when I was doing my taxes. 2013 was my fourth year having to declare royalties as a self-published author on my income tax return. I had a big sales boom in 2011, and things tapered off in 2012 and 2013, but when I saw that my royalty income for last year was still almost enough to pay the bills, I decided there was no longer any reason to wait. Writing fiction was what I wanted to do. Every Monday, I would wake up dreading my week and wishing I could just write stories.

I’d been letting the royalty checks pile up in the savings account, trying to decide how to use the money (Should I get a swimming pool? New car? Put in a new outdoor fire pit in the backyard? Remodel the bathroom?). Then I had a particularly bad week at my day job, one of those weeks where I just wanted to throw up my hands and quit. I spent a few days (and a weekend) thinking it over, talking with my family about it, and then I wrote my resignation letter.

It is generally agreed that the most difficult part of being a self-published author is marketing, especially in the beginning when there are only a few titles for readers to choose from. How long (years) and how many novels did it take before you were able to consider that a career as a novelist could be a reality? What strategies did you use to market yourself that you would warn others against using? What strategies did you use to market yourself that you feel contributed most to your success?

I have six novels and a novella out now. One of the novels and the novella are free (and they shall remain free as long as I have the power to keep them that way), so essentially I have income from five novels released Dec 2010 through Dec 2013. I didn’t consider going full-time until January 2014, when I looked at my tax return + bank statement and realized that possibility was real. I figured that, although I’d have to supplement my royalty income with money I’d saved up for a little while, having time to write three or four (or more?) books per year (and hopefully earning enough from them to fully cover my bills) was worth the risk.

I am not a natural salesperson (which is probably why my attempts at Amway, Mary Kay, etc. failed so miserably), and I’m not good at marketing myself, and so for a while, I threw money at whatever venues were available – banner ads, “sponsorships” (for someone else’s marketing campaign), giveaways, ads at sites like Bookbub, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. Most of them worked a little bit, but some didn’t work at all. Facebook and Goodreads ads for me were a waste of money. Some of those sponsorship ads didn’t work, or they were effective at one time and became less so. There are Facebook groups that list effective advertising sites (like BookBub, Book Gorilla, and so forth) that I recommend writers follow. Those that worked for me a month ago might be a wash six months from now. The Facebook groups that keep lists would probably do a good job at updating them as new sites emerge and old ones fade away. Just know that there are sites out there that cater to readers, listing good deals on books. The more popular of those sites tend to be the most effective for advertising.

When I released my romance novel this past December (the first book under that pen name), I was a nobody in the genre. Discoverability is the key to sales, and if no one knows your book exists (because it’s not on a bestseller list anywhere and no one is talking about it), there are no sales. What I did for that one, to get it kick-started, was to give it away for free. Yeah, people gasp and clutch their hands to their throats because “how can you possibly make money on a free book?” If your potential audience numbers in the MILLIONS (or even hundreds of millions!) of readers, a few thousand (or 20 thousand) free copies isn’t going to ruin everything. Some of those free copies will actually be read, and some of those readers will leave reviews (especially if you include a note at the end asking them to). My romance novel, Body Double, has been out just shy of two months now, and it has 33 reviews on Amazon US and 20 on Amazon UK. Not bad for an unknown author in a new genre, right? And now that it has a good number of reviews, it’ll qualify to be featured on a site like Book Bub, Book Gorilla, or Fussy Librarian. That’s where the readers are. In fact, when the book went back to its regular price of $3.97 on Amazon, it got the benefit of an hour’s visibility on the top 100 free books listing, except that it had a price. It ended up with a very respectable sales ranking on Amazon UK (in the triple digits) for several days in January. Sales rank keeps the book in front of readers’ eyes.

Then there’s my favorite marketing method: writing more books! It really helps to have a mailing list that people opt into. In the back of each book, I’ve included a link to my web site and urged people to sign up for the mailing list. These aren’t like those “fake” Facebook Likes that never engage or Twitter followers that don’t care. These are people who actually like my writing and want more. When I’m ready to announce a new book, my newsletter readers get the scoop first, they get an opportunity to win something nobody else can get: a personally autographed digital copy, and they find out about the release day-only sales price (99c on release day, then the price goes up the next day. It’s a win-win. My book starts off with a strong sales rank, and my most devoted readers get my new book at a killer price.

Is there any one book you’ve written that has molded your identity as a writer and made you into the brand you are? Is there anything about your brand that you feel has created a reason to compel readers to read more of your books?

Gosh, I’m not sure. The Kinshield series is a brand, and I’d like to think readers would agree that the gradual peeling-back of mysteries and layers in the series that takes it from being “just another sword and sorcery book” (book 1) to something different and fun (books 2-4) is uniquely “me.” Every writer has their own spin, their unique way of seeing the world and telling a story that reveals the nuances of human experience. I hope that my twist is different enough yet comfortably familiar enough to entice readers to come back for more. I plan to be doing this for the rest of my life.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Week of Self-Published Authors: Debra L. Martin

Debra L Martin joins us today, someone who I'm very excited to have on Unicorn Bell. She has been a great help to me for a long time, especially when it comes to marketing. Kind of my own personal Author Guru. She's lent her advice selflessly, even spent time on the phone with me discussing strategies and ideas. Keeping in mind that we've never met face-to-face, I find that amazing and it lends a lot of credence to what Robin said in her interview: "It's called a community for good reason."

Debra and her brother form a writing team. They have seven novels to date, and are about to release their eighth. Pay close attention to this one, Debra has a lot of insight into the way the self-pub world works.

For those of us with a drive to make writing our one and only career, I think it's especially important to take note of the fact that Debra and Dave together have seven novels, plus Debra has four more under a different pen name--and they're still playing it safe and keeping day jobs. Except for some very isolated cases, volume truly is the key to independence in the author world.

You’re in a unique situation—you write as a co-author with your brother, David W Small. There must be enormous benefits to having someone to share the burdens with, but I imagine—like all creative endeavors that involve more than one person—there must be struggles as well. Many authors (probably most!) don’t realize how much work goes into achieving success as a writer until after they’ve written their first story. Would you recommend teaming up with another writer, do you feel it has been beneficial for your career, or would you warn against it?

Writing with a co-author means leaving your ego at the door. I have a post about this on my blog, Two Ends of the Pen, http://twoendsofthepen.blogspot.com/ but I’ll be happy to share it here. I started writing with my co-author Dave in 2006. I was lucky to have such an awesome co-author, but I’m a bit biased. Dave has traveled around the world while in the Marine Corps and with his military background, I could be sure that any fight/battle scenes in our books would be spot on.

Growing up we both enjoyed the same types of books—science fiction and fantasy—and even into adulthood, we would pass books back and forth on a regular basis.  One day I was on the phone with Dave while he browsed the latest books in SFF and he was complaining that every book available was basically the same. I said, “we could write our own book,” and our collaboration was born.

Now saying you’re going to write a book and actually writing one is at opposite ends of the spectrum. As any author will tell you, they’re heard that exact same statement from lots of people, but actually following through on it and putting words to paper takes a tremendous amount of time, energy and self-determination.

Our first book was Quest for Nobility, a fantasy based on the distant planet Otharia. Our main characters were royal twins (brother and sister). Surprising, right? Anyway, it made perfect sense for us. We’ve had a loving relationship all our lives and it wasn’t hard to write these characters and how they would react to the conflicts we would throw at them. We had a general outline of the book and initially assigned each other a chapter to write. Now that sounds reasonable, however, it turned out to be a disaster.

We turned out to be pretty similar in our writing styles and that meant we included pretty much all the same information in both chapters. Out came the delete button and thousands of words went into the trash bin. So then we figured that we would write one chapter at a time before we sent it to the other one for edits. That way we both knew what was already in the chapter and could move forward with the next chapter without repeating the same information. Still, it wasn’t all smooth sailing especially when something was added in that we both didn’t agree on. Our mutual test was “if you can’t justify why something is included, then out it goes.” Yes, you definitely need to leave your ego at the door and keep the big picture in mind. You want to write the best book you can and sometimes that means things got left on the cutting room floor.

So that should have worked, right? Wrong! Do you know what happens when two people are writing a story without a specific outline? It’s not pretty and ¾ into the book, we thought of a fantastic tangent that we had to include in the book. That meant we needed to go back to the beginning chapters again and rework them so that our new tangent made sense. When we finally finished the book, we felt like we’d run a marathon, but we weren’t done yet. After letting it set for a few weeks, it was back for another round of edits. It’s amazing how much you see that needs to be changed if you step away for a bit.  All in all, our first book was probably edited from cover to cover at least 6 or 7 times before it went to our editor for the final edit. That’s a lot of editing, but the book is now something we both are proud to put our names on. This was also the book that nearly landed us an agent in 2008, but in the end, it didn’t work out. The one positive thing we came away with though is that we didn’t suck at writing! We could write an exciting action-packed adventure and that was a huge boost for us.

Because of our experience in writing Quest, we knew that we needed more than a 10,000 foot outline. In the second book in the Otharia series, The Crystal Façade, the writing went much more smoothly. We were getting into our groove and we had a much more extensive outline to work from. That’s not to say that we don’t think of “cool” things to add in along the way, we absolutely do, but at least now when we add in an unexpected twist or another tangent we don’t have to backtrack to the beginning and fix the plot. Even though we both know what the outline says, it’s still exciting to see how it actually turns out especially when we both add in little tidbits as surprises for the other.

We released Assassin’s Curse in 2012 and it’s the first book in a new series, “The Witch Stone Prophecy.” It was an absolute blast to write and we have definitely gained our rhythm writing together. We are currently working on the exciting conclusion Witch’s Curse to be released this spring.

Dave and I love writing together. It is a fantastic creative outlet for us, but it may not be for everyone. If you plan to write with a co-author, make sure you have compatible writing styles. When Dave and I look back at our books, we can’t remember who wrote what and that’s a very good thing!

You’ve crossed genres in your writing in a big way: High Fantasy, Vampire Romance, and Apocalyptic. You’ve kept your name the same with every one of your books. I’d like to hear your thoughts on whether you feel that crossing genres has been a benefit or a hindrance to building yours and your brother’s brand as authors. Do you feel it has helped you grow as a writer? Who you recommend branching out to other authors as a result of your own experiences?

Everything that Dave and I write together, we use our real names. Most of our titles thus far are in epic fantasy, but even The Silver Cross, our Boston/cop vampire story is in the fantasy realm, urban fantasy to be specific. Because this story is more hard-boiled cop than romance, we didn’t feel that publishing under our own names would be detrimental to our brand. We plan to write more books in our Vampire Nightlife series and like the first one, the emphasis will be on cops, action and intrigue. There will be an element of romance to it, but it won’t be the main focus.

I also write pure romance under my pen name, Debra Elizabeth. I felt that these stories would not fit into the brand Dave and I were building with our fantasy fans so I branched out with my own set of stories. We both felt that we didn’t want to confuse our fans. They expect a certain type of books from us and while you’re building your audience, it’s important to publish what they expect, at least in the beginning.

It is generally agreed that the most difficult part of being a self-published author is marketing, especially in the beginning when there are only a few titles for readers to choose from. Authors, lean in close and pay attention here. Debra has a great deal of experience with marketing.

How long (years) and how many novels did it take before you were able to consider that a career as a novelist might be a reality?

Dave and I started writing in 2006. In 2008 and 2009, we submitted query after query letters to agents hoping to be picked up. Back then, that was the only avenue to publication for authors. While we were never under contract with an agent, the personal replies we received on our query letters let us realize that our books had potential. When Amazon opened up the digital publishing platform in 2010, it was our chance to get our writing out to the public. It’s been an interesting journey as a published author, but like so many other authors, Dave and I still hold day jobs. We are building our career now in preparation for being able to write full-time in the next few years.

What strategies did you use to market yourself that you would warn others against using?

One of the things that new authors should try to avoid is trying to do everything and be on every social media platform out there. If you try to do too many things at once, you’ll not be able to devote the required time to make a difference on any of them and then you won’t carve out any time to write the next book.

Authors should definitely have an online presence such as a website/blog, http://twoendsofthepen.blogspot.com/ an author bio on Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Debra-L-Martin/e/B003Q1WLXY have a Facebook author page, https://www.facebook.com/Debra.L.Martin.Author join Pinterest (which I just joined), http://www.pinterest.com/dlmartin6/ and have a twitter account https://twitter.com/dlmartin6 I spend an enormous amount of time on my blog which has taken years to build up so authors should be aware that you shouldn’t allow any one venue to take over all your writing time. The blog now gets 300-500 hits a day and I have a number of tabs at the top of the blog where readers can find out about all of our books, my interviews and a number of other interesting topics.

Connecting with other authors is crucial and Kboards, http://www.kboards.com/, is a great place to meet other authors especially in The Writer’s Café, http://www.kboards.com/index.php/board,60.0.html. Get involved in discussions on all social media platforms, but the one thing new authors should NEVER do is constantly say “Buy my book, buy my book…” That’s not the way to get noticed and authors and fans alike get tired of this very quickly.

What strategies did you use to market yourself that you feel contributed most to your success?

Marketing is the bane of all authors. It’s hard and takes an enormous amount of time, but patience is the key. You can’t get discouraged because most authors are not instant bestsellers.

Amazon offer authors added perks if you enroll your book(s) in Select. There are specific rules for this such as your book must be exclusive to Amazon, but you’ll get 5 days that you can set your book free. Now, you’re probably thinking “I don’t want to give my book away.” While this may seem counter intuitive, the point is that it gets your book in front of readers. You’ll always have those readers who will download every free book out there, but there are many others who actually are interested in reading your story. If they like it, they’ll come back for more. That’s how you begin to build a fan base.

Getting ads for your book on sites like Bookbub, Kindle Books & Tips and Bargain Booksy can certainly get your books in front of a huge number of readers, but because these sites have become so popular, it can take a number of submissions before your book is accepted. Most of these sites have specific guidelines for books they post such as a 4 star rating,
a certain number of reviews, etc.  I’ve had books accepted one time and then when I submit again, the same book is rejected, but you can’t give up. These sites are overwhelmed with requests and authors must be persistent in their efforts. It’s hard work, but anything you pursue could definitely pay off in the end. Get a certain book in front of readers and you could easily sell enough copies to make the best-selling lists, “New York Times” and “USA Today.” I’ve seen this happen over and over again especially with Bookbub.

The other way to get readers attention is to hold a giveaway on Goodreads. Giveaways must be for a physical book
though and many new authors only publish in digital form. Most new authors sell most of their copies in digital form so having a paperback may not be something they want to explore. Amazon’s Createspace, https://www.createspace.com/ does an absolutely fantastic job with publishing paperbacks. However, I use a professional graphic artist to format the book for publication. I can’t be good at everything and I’m happy to leave things like creating book covers, editing and formatting to the professionals. Createspace also offers professional services if you need them.

Is there any one book you’ve written that has molded your identity as a writer and made you into the brand you are? Is there anything about your brand that you feel has created a reason to compel readers to read more of your books? With regard to building a brand, is there any advice you would overwhelmingly give to struggling authors?

Assassin’s Curse is the book that gained us the most attention. When we release the sequel, we hope that fans of the first book will be more than satisfied with the conclusion to the
series. The Witch Stone Prophecy was a planned 2-book series from the beginning. Dave and I both get tired of authors that plan multi-book series and then take years and sometimes even decades to finish. With so many books out there to choose from, authors need to pay attention to their own career plans. Fans who enjoy your work want more and there’s questions authors should think about. Do they want to write a series? Do they want to write stand-alone books in a certain genre? How long will it take to write a book? These are all questions that new authors should think about before they write that first word. No one is an island and like everything else, networking with others is the best way to learn the business.